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Four vets and a femme

Helmers nominate Coppola but snub Minghella & Zwick

This article was updated at 7:51 p.m.

The Directors Guild of America offered up a few surprises in noms for its 56th annual film awards, saluting relative novices, one past winner and former contenders.

Receiving nods for directorial achievement were Sofia Coppola (Focus’ “Lost in Translation”), Clint Eastwood (Warner’s “Mystic River”), Peter Jackson (New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”), Gary Ross (U’s “Seabiscuit”) and Peter Weir (Fox’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”).

The winner will be announced Feb. 7 at the Century Plaza Hotel.

The DGA Awards are seen as reliable bellwethers of the Oscars, since the winners have been the same in both kudos events for 49 of the last 55 years. However, they are rarely five-for-five in terms of nominations; there are almost always discrepancies.

And the DGA quintet, following Monday’s announcement of Producers Guild nominations, point up that this is an uncertain year for awards hopefuls. Among those omitted from the DGA five are Anthony Minghella (“Cold Mountain”) and Ed Zwick (“The Last Samurai”), even though both of their films got PGA citations.

The films of Eastwood, Jackson, Weir and Ross were cited by the PGA, which had six nominees this year.

While the omission of two high-profile contenders surprised many in Hollywood on Tuesday, the selection still included a wide range of films, in terms of both costs — the minuscule-budgeted “Translation” vs. two pics over $150 million (“Rings” and “Commander”) — and box office (a high of $290 million for “Rings,” compared to $31 million for “Translation”).

Weir noted the pics represented an eclectic mix, including fantasy, historic epic, heavy drama and quirky comedy. “The range of nominees is very broad, and I think that reflects a very thoughtful approach by the DGA voters,” he said.

Eastwood is the only one of the quintet to have previously won a DGA Award, copping the trophy a dozen years ago for “Unforgiven.”

Weir has been nominated for three previous films (“Witness,” “Dead Poets Society” and “The Truman Show”) while Jackson received noms for the previous two segs of the “Lord” trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers.”

Ross and Coppola are first-time nominees. Coppola, daughter of two-time winner Francis Ford Coppola, is the first child of a DGA winner to be nominated. She’s also only the fifth female director to take a DGA nod, joining Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties”), Randa Haines (“Children of a Lesser God”), Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”) and Jane Campion (“The Piano”).

“Return of the King,” which has grossed nearly $700 million worldwide, was the only pic among the five finalists that was released in December — an indication that the compressed awards season may be preventing voters from giving full consideration to contenders released in the last two weeks of the year.

“Seabiscuit” was the only pic of the five that was released before fall. “It’s obviously a cliche, but we always thought that we were something of a long shot because of coming out in July,” Ross said. “It’s a great feeling to be recognized by people who do what you do all day long.”

Weir received news of his fourth nom at his home in Australia at 5:30 a.m. local time. “It’s sheer delight every time,” he said. “One can never presume you’ll get an honor like this, so when you do, it comes as a delightful surprise.”

Jackson, contacted at his New Zealand home, where he’s working on the script for “King Kong,” called the nom “a fantastic climax to the experience of these three films. The DGA Awards mean a lot because it’s your peers, so the politics don’t matter.”

The writer-helmer, whose 8-year-old son woke him with the news at 7 a.m. local time, said the strong boxoffice performance of “Return of the King” has been especially gratifying. “I’m really pleased that the new film is doing so well because it was always my intent to make the last one be the strongest,” he said. “It really is why you make the first two.”

Aside from Minghella and Zwick, also-rans include Jim Sheridan (“In America”), Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”), Tim Burton (“Big Fish”), Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”), and Peter Webber (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”). Sheridan has twice scored Oscar noms after having been overlooked by DGA voters, for “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father.”

The nominations, selected from among 361 eligible pix by the DGA’s 12,800 members, were unveiled Tuesday by DGA prexy Michael Apted at guild headquarters in Hollywood. He said the DGA voting has been the “most accurate” indicator of which director will win an Oscar, with winners matching in all but six of the 55 years in which the DGA has given its award.

“Obviously that distinction makes this nomination special, but there’s something else too,” Apted said. “Unlike any of the other awards these directors will get in the upcoming weeks, they know that only this one is decided by their peers — the people who know the blood, sweat and fears that go into each of their endeavors.”

However, the DGA and Academy have split twice in the last three years. The DGA opted for Rob Marshall for “Chicago” last year while the Oscar went to Roman Polanski for “The Pianist”; three years ago, Ang Lee won the DGA race for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” while the Oscar went to Steven Soderbergh for “Traffic.”

The other divergences: DGA and Oscar winners were, respectively, Anthony Harvey for “The Lion in Winter” and Carol Reed for “Oliver!” in 1968; Francis Ford Coppola, “The Godfather,” and Bob Fosse, “Cabaret,” 1972; Steven Spielberg, “The Color Purple,” and Sydney Pollack, “Out of Africa,” 1985; and Ron Howard, “Apollo 13,” and Mel Gibson, “Braveheart,” 1995.

Last year, four of the five DGA nominees also received Oscar noms. In addition to Marshall and Polanski, Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”) and Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York) took both nods; Jackson received only a DGA nomination and Pedro Almodovar received only an Oscar nom.

DGA noms are selected by feature directors, TV helmers, associate directors, assistant directors, stage managers and unit production managers; this year’s Oscar noms will be made by 372 members of the Academy’s directors’ branch.

Still to come are the DGA’s nominees for helming TV movies (Thursday), TV series and serials (Jan. 13) and documentary features (Jan. 21), as well as winners of several special awards (Jan. 20).

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